Well, here’s a topic the pilgrims of old were probably not discussing as part of their spiritual lives! To be honest, even typing the heading made me a little nervous. But in his book The Deeply Formed Life, Rich Villodas makes the point that our sexuality and spirituality are connected.
“Sadly, over the course of history, the church has not succeeded much at making this connection. Consequently, so many of us are ill-equipped to engage in any meaningful conversation along these lines. We struggle to live with a mature, deeply human and humane, anxiety-free vision of our bodies as it relates to our spirituality.”
For me, the most valuable part of these two chapters came in the study of Adam and Eve in the Genesis account. Genesis 2:25 tells us, “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” There’s beauty, joy and freedom in their view of themselves and their interaction with each other. No body shaming or objectification or insecurity. But sin changed everything. In Genesis 3:7 we read, “The eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”
Shame becomes their overriding feeling, and I realised that shame is the same emotion that I carry with me around sexuality. Perhaps it has to do with my rather Puritan upbringing where we never spoke about our bodies or sex. Or subtle messages from the church that I grew up in that sex was unspiritual and probably sinful.
So how beautiful it was for me to see that neither Adam, Eve or—most importantly—God viewed it that way.
Sin has disordered our desires and has led to two extreme ‘diets’—starvation or fast food. Many people of faith live on a ‘starvation diet’ of rejecting, suppressing, or ignoring their longings and desires. On the other extreme, many in the surrounding world consume the ‘fast food diet’ of giving in to every desire and refusing to see sex as sacred.
“The starvation diet has no imagination to see sexual desire as a means toward God. The fast-food diet relegates sexual desire to being its god. Both are missing the point.”
There is—Rich writes—another way.
“The gospel offers us a banquet. The love of God doesn’t remove our desires; it reorders them. Our bodies, though affected by the reality of sin, are gifts from God to cherish and nurture. Shame doesn’t have to have the last word.”
I like that last sentence—shame doesn’t have to have the last word. But shaking shame is proving more difficult than identifying it. However, Rich outlines some practices (disciplines) to help us do it, including naming sexually de-formed messages and practicing sobriety (honesty) around what keeps us in bondage.
There is so much more to these two chapters that a short blog post can’t capture, but I was left with the beautiful sense that our bodies can become sacramental.
“We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Our bodies, in their glory and fragility, in their energy and weakness, are means by which God meets us. To put it simply, we are not just to receive the sacraments, we are to become them. Whether through our compassionate love for our neighbours, shared intimacy with friends, kindness towards our children, or through the making of love with our spouses, our entire lives point to something beyond ourselves.”
Ultreia et Suseia. Further and Higher.
This is Part 6 of my Pilgrimage Blog series.
Read The Storytelling Pilgrim (Part 1), A Call to go Deeper (Part 2), Building a Contemplative Rhythm (Part 3), Racial Reconciliation (Part 4) and Examining my Inner Life (Part 5) and Towards being Jesus for Another (Part 7)